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How To Bury Digital Dirt

How To Bury Digital Dirt

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With more and more employers using search engines to rule out candidates, proactively controlling your online identity is important. I’ve discussed ideas for promoting positive information to boost your brand in past blogs like here. In this blog, I want to show you how to actually remove digital dirt impacting your brand.

How To Bury Digital Dirt

It’s tricky, and it might not be possible. Sorry to be Debbie Downer, but that’s reality. If you’ve got a record that’s posted on a state-run legal database, you’re out of luck. Focus your efforts on building the information that will lead to a positive impression. The more sites linked to your name with the image you want to portray, the further down on the search engine’s page rank the negative items will be. Don’t waste your time trying to get rid of something that’s impossible to remove.

However, if it’s a case of mistaken identity, slander, or outdated information, you might, *might* be able to have it removed. Here’s how:

1. Determine Who Controls The Content

For example, if there is a photo you don’t want the public to see, and it’s your Facebook profile, you control that. Just change the visibility settings of that photo (or take it off).

However, if the negative content resides on a website or page you don’t control, you will need to request that it be removed. The best policy is to always be polite and patient. Threatening lawsuits to the editor of a newspaper rarely produces results.

Important: Google won’t remove content. Its policy is that it does not alter search results to cater to individuals. Google will only intervene if the site in question is publishing your confidential information — social security, government ID number, bank account or credit card number, an image of your handwritten signature, or your name if it’s associated with a porn site.

2. Figure Out How To Contact Them

Don’t know who the website’s owner is? Search a site like whois.net to see if the owner’s information is listed. If you’re able to find an e-mail or phone number, you’re in luck. Contact the website’s owner and politely request that they remove the content.

Important: You want the information removed at the source, because as long as it stays on the original website, people will still be able to see it. Even if it doesn’t appear in Google’s search results, it will still be there. And remember, having content removed from Google’s search results doesn’t affect results on other search engines like Bing or Yahoo.

Also Important: After the webmaster has deleted your content, the negative listing will still show up in the search result until Google updates its index. If the content is put back on the website, it will reappear in search results when the site is indexed again in the future.

3. Shoot The Owner A Message

Many website owners subscribe to privacy forwarding services to prevent spam from building up in the company’s inbox. If this is the case, you will have to make a request that your message for the content removal be forwarded to the owner of the site. Keep this very professional in tone for best results, but be prepared to be ignored. (Sorry!)

4. Fill Out A Complaint Form

If you hit a wall with the website owner, move on to the web hosting company. You might be able to fill out a complaint form on the hosting company’s website. Include why you think the content should be removed and the full URL of the page in question.

Important: Understand that if the offending website is not violating the terms of service of the web hosting company, you might be out of luck again.

5. Petition

Your next option is to petition Google to remove the site or page from its results. You can also follow this procedure if you have gotten the webmaster to remove the content and you want Google’s index to reflect that immediately.

Step 1: Go to the removal request page: http://www.google.com/webmasters/tools/removals

Step 2: Click “New Removal Request.”

Step 3: Enter the URL you want removed.

Step 4: Pick the correct reason for wanting the content removed and hit “Request.”

There are similar processes for other search engines.

If this sounds like an intimidating process, please don’t let that stop you. It might not be as bad as you think and the reward is great. You may have to swallow your pride and write nice e-mails to people you’d rather punch in the face, but it will be worth it. If you succeed in fixing your online reputation, you’ll recover your brand and move your career forward.

Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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Kristin Johnson Kristin is a TORI award-winning, 6-times certified resume writer, job search coach, and social media consultant. She's the proud owner of Profession Direction, LLC, which was recently named one of Forbes Top 100 Career Sites of 2013.